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Mr. Kiji

Japanese folklore, Buddhism and vector graphics in an emerging NYC artist's latest work

by Karen Day in Culture on 21 April 2011

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Before receiving a degree in Industrial Design from RISD, the artist known as Mr. Kiji began his art training with an apprenticeship in Nepal studying Tibetan Buddhist Thangka painting. While Kiji says the method is still relevant and informs his current work, he claims there's no "obvious correlation in terms of composition and aesthetics." Instead, the Japanese native cites "Japanese folklore and Buddhism" as current influences. Either way, we won't argue. The results—fantastical scenes layering vivid color, images, symbols, patterns and abstractions—if nothing else accomplish the feat of bringing a barrage of subjects into harmony for paintings as equally kinetic as they are unified.

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The NYC-based painter's latest works, four of which are on display in the group show "Spectrum" at NYC's Mallick Williams Gallery, are part of Kiji's ongoing series called "My Drifting Life in a Floating World." He describes them as a study on the "current and past events both public and personal in the context of traditional Ukioy-e woodblock-based style also commonly known as 'Floating World' prints."

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Specifically, Kiji references Utagawa Kuniyoshi's 1859 woodblock print "Events in the Ansei Period" as the initial inspiration for his recent work. His colorful interpretations keep to Kuniyoshi's theme, depicting a large fish blamed for causing an earthquake with its intense thrashing—an image that later came to symbolize both the forces of destruction and rebirth. But, positioning himself firmly within contemporary practices, Kiji's lines show his background as an illustrator, with geometric shapes hinting at vector graphics.

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The young artist's versatility has already landed him gigs for the New York Times' Op-Ed section, making textile designs for snowboard garb, executing large-scale paintings for hotel rooms at the Ace NYC and designing charity footballs for Maxim's Superbowl party. (Check out these and more in the gallery, as well as his work on the Electric Windows project in our 2008 video.)

"Spectrum" opens today at Mallick Williams Gallery and runs through 1 June 2011.

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